During our 13 month stay in Dubai we had the opportunity to witness and live in a highly contrasting city. A city usually described as fake or uncharacteristic of its region, has proven us to be a complex and fascinating city. Dubai’s construction boom at the turn of the 21st century came to notice with its opulent and ambitious constructions with a variety of architectural styles. Its tall and impressive skyline is perhaps more successful collectively than each project individually. There is no hierarchy in the design of the buildings or a relation to any sort of context. Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, has imposed itself over the rest of the city. Dubai lacks hierarchy not only vertically but even more horizontally. The city has been mostly developed by private companies, and its unplanned growth is reflected in its lack of a coherent urban layout. The famous Palm Jumeirah, a 5.72 sq km development in the sea is an example of an ambitious yet ambiguous project that captivates Dubai’s architectural statement. When the skyscrapers meet the ground and immediately meet the 2 story pre-boom villas is where these fascinating contrasts start to occur. On one side of the street you can find storefronts of ethnic restaurants, next to a high-end retail shop, across from an oversized villa and behind a 60 story building.  Accidentally and unplanned is in these spaces where Dubai shows its multicultural character where a variety of occupants interact with each other and where different building scales meet.

Dubai Sheikh Zayed Road

Skycrapers and villas

Dubai and the UAE’s population is largely made up of  foreigners. According to The Government of Dubai, the local Emiratis make up only 15% of the Emirate of Dubai’s population. In the construction business, foreigners play a key role both in the managerial positions as well as in the labor workforce. Workers come mostly from the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia. These workers are involved in all types of construction projects. Recruiting agencies and labor supply companies are responsible for relocating these workers to the UAE. The impact that the UAE and other gulf states have in the economy of the countries where these workers come form is significant. The remittances sent by these workers are an active source of income for their families and to the economy of the country. Therefore, the construction boom and economy of  Dubai goes beyond the boundaries of the UAE. These labor force being mostly made up of a male population has also a direct impact on the demographics of Dubai. According to The Government of Dubai, the total population of Dubai is around 2 million inhabitants, where approximately 1.5 million are male and 500,000 are female. An interactive map of Dubai found at the Government of Dubai website, breaks down the demographical statistics of each neighborhood. In the areas predominantly inhabited by workers, such as Al Quoz, the male population can reach up to 99%.

Demographic Map of Dubai:

Without getting into the discussion of the working conditions that these workers face, we are interested in exploring and analyzing Dubai in the context of the region and the area that it impacts; to understand what happens in the rest of the world as Dubai gets built. This model is very similar in other gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, which are also actively building. European and American, architecture, engineering, and construction companies are involved in large-scale developments which employ a foreign labor force just as in the UAE. Government projects such as the 3.5 sq km King Abdullah Financial Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is currently employing thousands of workers, heavily relying on a foreign workforce. Contractors are assigned by the government a quantity of visas depending on the scale of the project. These visas are sometimes restricted with a quota or limit of the nationalities that need to be employed. With the state of the economy and construction in Europe and the United States, the Middle East also become influential in the European construction market, as individuals and companies search in this area  for projects and opportunities.

Dubai, has achieved more than just facades and ambitious projects. It has become an extremely influential city with significant impact in other regions outside the Gulf. Its infrastructure and its Arabian sense for hospitality, has paid-off by making Dubai a destination that yearly hosts events that range from sport events to professional congresses or simply an attractive tourism destination. All these different layers makes Dubai a fascinating and complex city. Architecturally it might look banal and fake but you don’t need to look too deep to discover and experience the richness of its contrasts.

Jebel Ali Race

Multicultural crowd at Jebel Ali Racecourse

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